Former NHL player Rick Martin diagnosed with brain trauma

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Former National Hockey League professional hockey player Rick Martin died in March, and his brain was donated to the Boston University Brain Bank, where it was analyzed and he was diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy after his death. He is the first non-enforcer athlete to have been diagnosed with the brain trauma.

Martin was 59 when he died of a heart attack. The former three NHL players who donated their brains were all diagnosed with Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy.

"Rick Martin's case shows us that even hockey players who don't engage in fighting are at risk for CTE, likely because of the repetitive brain trauma players receive throughout their career," said BU Sports Legacy Institute founder Chris Nowinski. "We hope the decision makers at all levels of hockey consider this finding as they continue to make adjustments to hockey to make the game safer for participants."

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Though a full analysis of Martin’s brain tissue will later be available through a medical journal, Martin’s family wanted the results to be released immediately "to raise awareness of the dangers of brain trauma in sports and encourage greater efforts to make sports safer for the brain."

Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy can only be diagnosed after death, and Martin’s case was labeled stage 2 out of four possible stages. At that stage, it was not likely his injuries had begun to affect his cognitive development or displays of behavior. Researchers believe the diagnosis to be significant, as the only concussion Martin suffered was in 1977 when his head hit the ice without a helmet. He immediately went into convulsions and was diagnosed later with a concussion. Martin wore a helmet the next four years, until his retirement in the early ‘80s.

Rene Robert, who played with Martin, said Martin’s concussion was a wake-up call.

"I think that day was a real awakening for everybody. But it was also all for the good of the game, too," Robert said in an interview with The Associated Press after a memorial service for Martin. "I think when you get into that situation you realize that before anything starts to happen I need to start wearing one."

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